Actor Danny Masterson lost a major bid to capsize his criminal rape case Tuesday when a judge rejected claims his probable cause hearing last May waded too far into Church of Scientology doctrine in violation of the First Amendment.
Los Angeles County Judge Ronald S. Coen shot down the dismissal motion after Masterson’s lawyers tried in vain to convince the court that a different magistrate, Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo, made critical errors nine months ago when she heard testimony from the actor’s three rape accusers and ruled there was enough evidence to send Masterson to trial.
Defense lawyer Philip Cohen argued Tuesday that Olmedo improperly resolved alleged inconsistencies in the women’s accounts by relying on two exhibits, including a church manual titled Introduction to Scientology Ethics. He said Judge Olmedo specifically mentioned “the exhibits received” before finding it “credible” that the women, all former Scientologists, believed that membership in the church prohibited them from going to authorities.
When Judge Coen suggested Olmedo only used the exhibits to properly assess the alleged victims’ states of mind after their purported attacks, Cohen replied that the “only way” to do that would be to “analyze and interpret” Scientology doctrine in violation of the Constitution’s separation of church and state.
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller vehemently disagreed with Cohen, highlighting the fact that it was Masterson’s own defense team who first pulled out a copy of Introduction to Scientology Ethics during their cross-examination of Chrissie Carnell Bixler, who has publicly identified herself as one of Masterson’s alleged victims.
“This has nothing to do with a secular court somehow interfering with church doctrine,” Mueller argued at the Tuesday hearing, which Masterson did not attend. “The evidence was admitted by the defense, and for the court, it is absolutely permissible to review that evidence for the purposes of the state of mind of the witnesses and their credibility.”
Judge Coen ultimately sided with prosecutors and sent the case back to Judge Olmedo’s courtroom to proceed to an estimated four-week trial, set to begin August 29, 2022. “I find that the testimony of [the alleged victims] is credible, and I believe it’s sufficient to support the charges,” Coen ruled. “There is sufficient evidence to deny the [dismissal motion], and it’s denied.”
Masterson, 45, has pleaded not guilty to charges he raped his three accusers in separate instances between 2001 and 2003. Carnell Bixler, who publicly identified herself in a civil lawsuit filed against the actor, testified last May that she was raped by Masterson twice at the end of 2001, when she was 23 and they were involved in a domestic relationship. She said the first assault involved the actor initiating penetrative sex with her while she was sleeping and refusing to stop when she woke up. She claimed Masterson pinned her down with “all of his weight,” struck her in the face, spit on her, and called her “white trash” when she pulled his hair to defend herself. She claimed the second attack followed about a month later, with Masterson allegedly drugging her wine at a restaurant and penetrating her anally while she was passed out.
The two other accusers, identified as Jane Does in both the criminal case and their civil lawsuit with Bixler, testified at the preliminary hearing that they were raped by Masterson in 2003 and faced warnings or backlash when they reported what happened to more senior Scientologists.
Jane Doe No. 1 testified at the probable cause hearing that she felt drugged after consuming half of a red “fruity” vodka drink during a gathering at Masterson’s Hollywood home in April 2003. She said the actor “commanded” her to remove her clothes and get in his Jacuzzi, where she feared she might slip under the surface and drown. The woman said Masterson later carried her upstairs and raped her vaginally and anally as she drifted in and out of consciousness. At one point, Masterson pulled a handgun out of his nightstand and threatened, “Don’t fucking move,” she testified.
Describing herself as a second-generation Scientologist, she said a fellow church member refused to speak with her as she left Masterson’s house and that a church “ethics officer” warned her not to even utter the word “rape.” She reported the alleged rape to police a year later, in 2004, after hearing that Masterson had allegedly assaulted another victim, she testified.
Jane Doe No. 2 told the court that Masterson gave her a drink at his home that caused her to go “limp” like “a rag doll” toward the end of 2003. She claimed Masterson also barked at her to strip and get in his Jacuzzi. She said he later raped her in his upstairs bathroom and bedroom as she struggled to gain control of her faculties.
The woman, who said she was 23 at the time, claimed Masterson ordered her around like a “drill sergeant,” using a voice known in Scientology as “tone 40.” She said she didn’t immediately report the attack to police because she feared being declared a “suppressive person” by the church, which she described as a form of excommunication. “You lose everything, your good standing with society. They put you on blast that you are a suppressive person,” she testified.
Carnell Bixler testified that when she tried to report her experience to church officials, an ethics officer told her she must have done something to “deserve” what happened. She testified that the officer also showed her church doctrine stating it was a “high crime” to report a fellow Scientologist to law enforcement. Carnell Bixler said the threat of being declared suppressive left her in a state of “terror.”
For his part, Masterson has called the allegations “outrageous” and “ridiculous.” He faces a maximum of 45 years to life in prison if convicted as charged.
The actor suffered another legal defeat recently when a state appeals court sided with his accusers and ruled the women were not bound by religious arbitration agreements they signed before they left the controversial church.
A panel with the California Court of Appeal ruled Jan. 20 that former Scientologists cannot be held to a lifetime contract to resolve disputes though an internal Scientology tribunal once they’ve left the faith. The Church of Scientology is appealing the ruling.
“This court became the first in the nation to hold that ‘freely executed’ religious arbitration agreements cannot be enforced over the First Amendment objections of a party who claims to be a ‘non-believer,’” lawyers for the church argued in a Feb. 3 filing requesting a rehearing. “The opinion contains numerous other unbriefed issues, mistakes of law, and misstatements of fact, all of which require rehearing.”